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BACKGROUND: Exercise improves cognition, but the specific mechanisms underlying these changes are not clear. Two proposed mechanism are aerobic demand and cognitive demand inherent in varying degrees to specific exercise tasks. This study compared two kinds of dance that differed in instruction complexity and aerobic intensity, ballroom (BR) and aerobic dance (Aero). The primary aim of this study was to determine if the cognitive benefits of exercise are more responsive to the complexity or aerobic overload.
METHODS: Fourteen subjects aged 40-80 were randomly assigned to 8 weeks of Aero or BR dance classes. Aero classes were designed to emphasize low instructional complexity and high aerobic intensity. BR classes were designed to emphasize high complexity and low aerobic intensity. Motor and cognitive functions were assessed before and after participation. The six-minute walk (6MW) and timed up-and-go (TUG )were used to measure aerobic function and agility, respectively. A computer-based cognitive battery (Neurotrax Tests) was used to evaluate global cognitive function, executive function, attention, and memory. The Walking Response Inhibition Test (WRIT) was used to evaluate cognition using whole-body movements through a physical environment.
RESULTS: Significant main effects for time were observed for 6MW, TUG, memory, and WRIT. Performance for the 6MW, memory, and WRIT improved, whereas TUG performance worsened. Although neither group exhibited significant change in the 6MW; there was an interaction effect and subsequent pairwise analysis revealed that the change seen for Aero was higher than BR.
CONCLUSION: We observed differences in aerobic demand between the groups, with greater, though non-significant, aerobic response by the Aero group. There were improvements in both memory and WRIT for both groups. Improvements in WRIT favored the BR group compared to the Aero group, although between group differences failed to reach significance. Our preliminary data suggest a role for both aerobic demand and movement complexity in driving cognitive adaptations. More research with larger sample sizes is needed to support these findings. Future research should control the complexity of the exercise conditions and assess the learning effects and cognitive demand of the subjects.